Everyone’s favorite b- queen is actually doing her bit for feminism.
By Tania Evans
Content Warning: spoilers, violence
Cersei Lannister is one of the most hated characters in the immensely popular fantasy series Game of Thrones, the television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. She’s the Queen Regent (and later Queen) of the pseudo-medieval Westeros, and her crimes are numerous: she’s the mother of the sadistic boy-king Joffrey Baratheon, she murders her husband, plots to have her son’s fiancé, Margery Tyrell, imprisoned, blows up most of the nobility in Westeros’s capital city King’s Landing, and pretends to help the other leaders with the army of the undead but betrays them in order to tighten her grip on Westeros and preserve her legacy.
In short, Cersei is a bit of a b-. But she’s a b- with real power in a medieval world where women are perpetually disempowered.
As a character, Cersei is useful for feminists because of the way she’s gendered.
Cersei has a female body, but she continually wishes she were a man because of the power that masculine people are allocated within her world.
Cersei’s desire to be a man means that, according to queer theorists, she can be classified as a masculine woman. At the start of Game of Thrones Cersei is forced to ignore her masculinity—hence the long blonde hair and pretty pink dresses—but after her patriarchal father Tywin and her husband Robert die, she gets more control over her gender identity.
Cersei does masculinity in lots of ways, but one of the most important is through violence. She threatens her son’s fiancé Margery and later plots to have her imprisoned for adultery, has her henchman Gregor Clegane torture and murder her enemies, and poisons a young woman and forces her mother to watch her die. In her most despicable act of masculine violence, she has the entire court blown up in a magical fire explosion when she’s meant to be tried for her crimes.
Cersei’s violence is terrifying, but if we look at the way that the acts are presented to us, a more complicated picture emerges.
The thing is, we’re not being encouraged to see Cersei’s violence as an acceptable way of doing masculinity.
Each time she uses masculine violence, it’s made terrifying through feminine figures of monstrosity. Basically, this is one form of monstrosity where women’s reproductive capabilities are at the core of what’s scary: think toothed vaginas, womb-like tunnels where people get killed, and cannibalistic mothers.
Cersei’s violence is visually linked to the monsytrous feminine, and this connection between horror and violence has the potential to critique masculine violence more broadly.
If it’s unacceptable for Cersei to use violence to show of her masculinity, then we can apply the same argument to male-bodied people using violence.
Because Cersei’s violence is made terrifying through the monstrous feminine, we get to see violence being criticized from a new point of view. Aggression becomes an unacceptable way of being masculine, and this leaves room for less destructive masculinities to be privileged in Game of Thrones and the real world.
Tania Evans is a cultural studies researcher at the Australian National University. Her PhD on masculinity and fantasy in George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation, Game of Thrones is currently under examination. She has written several essays on gender in popular culture, which have been published in Gothic Studies, Fantastika, and Masculinities: A Journal of Identity and Culture. She teaches literary studies, film, and feminist theory and tweets at @_TaniaEvans_
This article is based on an essay by Tania titled “Vile, Scheming, Evil B-es? The Monstrous Feminine Meets Hegemonic Masculine Violence in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones,” which was published in the June 2018 issue of Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies (free online copy available here: https://www.aeternumjournal.com/issues). This article won the ANU Gender Institute award for best article published by an ANU postgraduate student in 2018.
Tania will be writing scholarly blog posts for Fantastika journal on each episode of the new, and final, season of Game of Thrones as they come out.